Abstracts – Labour History No. 111

Edited by Diane Kirkby and Sean Scalmer

Between Scylla and Charybdis: END and its Attempt to Overcome the Bipolar World Order in the 1980s
Stefan Berger and Norman LaPorte

This article deals with European Nuclear Disarmament’s (END) difficult positioning in the Cold War of the 1980s. Its vision was for a humanistic socialism from below that would be capable of breaking up the Cold War and unite a divided Europe that in turn could act as a possible “third way” between the liberal capitalism of the USA and the orthodox Communism of the Soviet Union. However, it proved difficult to build these alliances across the Cold War divide without talking, at the same time, to representatives of the “official” peace movements of the Communist states. END found itself between the Scylla of having no dialogue at all with Eastern Europe or having a dialogue also with the Communist regimes which was seen sceptically by the dissidents. The article traces the difficulties of END of building humanistic socialist alliances for peace from below with special reference to END’s Working Group on Germany.

Indonesian Trade Unionists, the World Federation of Trade Unions and Cold War Internationalism, 1947–65
Vannessa Hearman

From 1947 to 1965, members of the communist-linked trade union federation SOBSI (Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia, All-Indonesian Trade Unions Centre) were actively involved in global Cold War politics through participation in international labour groupings and campaigns. Based predominantly on archival research, this paper argues that SOBSI’s internationalism had several main aims: to support the Indonesian state, particularly in the foreign policy realm, to further the goals of the Left domestically in Indonesia, particularly in facing off their political rivals, and to educate its membership about global working-class politics and the relevance of socialism and communism as political models in Indonesia. This article discusses the views and activities of Indonesian trade unionists on international issues of the 1950s and 60s, chiefly peace and disarmament issues, Western intervention and decolonisation struggles underway in Asia and Africa. It argues that the pressures of the Cold War, the Sino-Soviet split and political circumstances in Indonesia combined to narrow SOBSI’s internationalism and resulted in its utter devastation in the face of the 1965–66 Army-led anti-communist repression.

“People Treated Me with Equality”: Indigenous Australians Visiting the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War
Jon Piccini

This paper discusses the entwining of Australian communists, trade unions and indigenous activists: a much-studied topic. However, I approach it from a “transnational” perspective, unearthing intersections between global ideas and local activism through a case study of how the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and trade union bodies under its control or influence sent particular indigenous activists abroad during the 1950s and 1960s. It looks at why the CPA would invest the time and money in these trips, and what indigenous Australians thought they could get out of them. In so doing, it explores the possibilities and limits of this form of globally-centred solidarity, and adds a new dimension to our understanding of international communist and trade union politics.

Forging Regional Connections: The Cold War Internationalism of Asia-Pacific Dockworkers
Dmytro Ostapenko

This article focuses on the actions of the three leading Pacific dockworkers’ unions – the US-Canadian International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union, the Australian Waterside Workers’ Federation and the Japan Dockworkers’ Union – in forming a broad regional coalition of organised waterfront labour in the post-World War II decades. At that time, the Cold War hostilities organisationally divided the global trade union movement into pro-Western and pro-Soviet labour camps. While this ideological split somewhat discouraged US, Australian and Japanese waterfront unionists from formally joining either side, their commitment to working-class solidarity and internationalism prompted them to take an independent lead in forging regional labour links across the Pacific. The article demonstrates that the Cold War politics eventually made the Asia-Pacific dockworkers’ association unsustainable. As the participants from pro-socialist Asian countries attempted to use the newly formed coalition for their own political purposes, an irreconcilable conflict broke out with US and Australian representatives who viewed their internationalist objectives from a more pragmatic economic perspective.

Nuclear Migrants, Radical Protest, and the Transnational Movement against French Nuclear Testing in the 1960s: The 1967 Voyage of the Trident
Kyle Harvey

This article explores the origins and early years of the Australian movement against the French nuclear testing program in the South Pacific, which ran from 1966 to 1996. In particular, it looks at the transnational frame of Australian activism by focusing on an early example of direct action, the Committee Against Atomic Testing (CAAT). Established in Sydney in 1964, CAAT was conceived as a vehicle for organising the Trident protest voyage that sailed from Sydney towards French Polynesia in 1967. Although the voyage only travelled as far as the Cook Islands, it is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, it illuminates the role of British and American migrants in radicalising the Sydney Left in the early to mid-1960s. Many of these, especially those from the United States, were self-described “nuclear migrants,” fleeing radioactive fallout, Cold War propaganda, and the excesses of materialism back home. Several were involved in CAAT, helping to radicalise its ideas and its place in broader, international trends of direct action and radical pacifism. Secondly, the campaign of the Trident and its evolution is illustrative of a broader trend of experimentation with radical protest in opposition to French nuclear testing that was garnering interest among many on the Left in Australia in the mid to late 1960s.


Questioning the Legacy of Class Structure in Australian History: An Australian “Historical” Class Analysis?
Henry Paternoster

Connell and Irving’s Class Structure in Australian History remains the authoritative text on class formation in Australia. Following the “death of class” of the late 1990s, class analysis has abandoned a historical orientation; replacing previous modes of class analysis with the theories of Pierre Bourdieu. This article attempts to re-historicise the study of class in Australia through a critique of Connell and Irving’s classic work. Connell and Irving claimed to have developed a genuinely “historical” reading of class in Australia, which purportedly relates categories such as the “working class” and “ruling class” to rich documents. Their work has been remembered as if it was a foundational analysis on which subsequent decades of research could rest. This article contends that, despite the rhetoric of its introduction, Class Structure in Australian History in fact reproduces a priori Marxist narratives without evidencing them. This article uses the narrative arc of the proletariat as its case study, through which it dismantles the authors’ claims to have generated their concepts out of historical documentation. This article concludes that the task of “historical” class analysis is still necessary, but that it is only possible through greater clarity over the a priori assumptions that are brought to it.

“As Good as Cash All the Time”: Trapping Rabbits in South-Eastern Australia, 1870–1950
Warwick Eather and Drew Cottle

The rabbit industry was a boon for thousands of workers in the bush of south-eastern Australia between 1870 and 1950. While different forms of trapping required experience in specific methods to maximise income, little capital was required to get started. Contrary to their depiction as precarious proletarians constantly falling prey to the vicissitudes of climate, season and global markets, many rural workers were successful rabbiters enjoying high earnings and easier work. Rabbiting ended the continual search for low-paid, seasonal farm work and deprivation during winter months. Rabbiters and their families enjoyed relative financial security and severe economic downturns had little impact on the rabbit industry. The rabbit industry caused labour shortages across all types of rural work and reduced the ranks of the reserve army of labour in the bush. Different rural dwellers, from clergy to wheat lumpers, used these shortages or rabbiters’ high earnings to secure higher pay. By making farming uneconomic in many areas, rabbit plagues made the impetus to trapping all the greater. These findings warrant a radical revision of the accepted wisdom about the nature of life and labour in rural Australia.

“Some of Us Pushed Forward and Let the World See What Could Be Done”: Aboriginal Australian Nurses and Midwives, 1900–2005
Odette Best and Don Gorman

This paper locates the voices of Aboriginal nurses and midwives which only emerged in publications from the 1950s onwards. It seeks to privilege the voices of Aboriginal nurses and midwives, and recognise their contributions to the nursing and midwifery professions. It identifies two key developments in Australian history that influenced the acceptance of Aboriginal people into a career in nursing and midwifery: the gradual decline of policies of protection, segregation and assimilation, and the shift of nursing education from hospitals into the tertiary sector. The authors identify four key themes that emerge from this review of Aboriginal nurses’ publications: (1) the ongoing experience of racism faced by Aboriginal nurses and midwives, which was first reported in the 1950s and continues to be reported today; (2) the desire of Aboriginal nurses and midwives to work in their communities and contribute to improving the health of Aboriginal people; (3) the call for improved education about Aboriginal health issues as part of the broad nursing curriculum; and (4) the value of targeted strategies to recruit and retain Aboriginal nursing students.